The Times: Nuclear power option 'may beat global warming'

M A Jones jones118 at
Sat Jun 17 02:04:51 MDT 2000

[The Royal Commission's extraordinary reporton Environmental Pollution
repays reading. Its proposals often smack of desperation. For example it
recommends a huge new wave of nuclear power stations, al;though even if
long-term safety issues could be addressed (at a time when Britain's
existing nuclear recycyling industry is in near-collapse because of safety
scandals) there are scientific doubts about the value of nuclear power.
First, such a huge construction programme would in energy-economcis terms
amount to a huge subsidy of nuclear by fossil fuel, since large concrete
constructions are intensive users of fossil fuel, requiring up to 12 gallons
of oil-equvalent for each tonne of poured concrete; 2nd, concrete
manufacture is itself a major cause of greenhouse gas; 3rd nuclear power
stations add singificantly to ambient atmospheric heat levels and emit large
volumes of water vapour (also a GHG). Fourth, even if the safety issues
could be addressed adequately in a technically advanced country such as the
UK, this is obviously no solution for the 3-4 billion people living amid a
lack of infrastructure and where the human and technical capital does not
exist to support large nuclear generation schemes. Therefore the implicit
assumption behind the proposal is that the existing inequity between North
and South will continue and even deepen, but the Royal Commission directly
contradicts this in its alternative proposals for a new international carbon
tax regime designed to create more social justice by evening-up energy
consumption in the South, while reducing it drastically in the North. In
this scenario is in effect  calls upon Western citizens to use less energy
even while helping people in the South consume relatively more, surely a
politically-impossible goal.

In effect, the Royal Commission is stating that the British Government must
either revert to nuclear or adopt as official policy a plan to _reduce
British per capital energy consumption by a staggering EIGHY PERCENT_ (not
just the 60 % the Times mentions) in the next few decades WHILE AT THE SAME
to renewables and convert the entire energetics-base of society.  Another
proposal which smacks of desperation and has been widely criticised for its
likely effect on marine biomes, is the proposal to inject gigatonnes of
sequestrated carbon under the sea shelf. No-one knows how to do this, or
what the effect on marine biosystems will be of possibly converting the
world ocean into dilute carbonic acid. Remember, most existing
carbon-sequestration and most release of atmospheric oxygne comes about as
natural results of ocean process and ecosystems and ocean-climate
interactions. Thus the Royal Commissions ideas about finding "sustainable"
solutions themselves involve radically tampering with large-scale natural
processes, with hitherto-unknowable results.

The report's many contradictions are the result of the seemingly insolube
Gordian-know of problems which society as a whole faces in dealing with the
longterm AND SHORT-TERM consequences of global warming. Above all, the
Report's central conclusion -- that the industrial world's energy-system
must be completely overhauled and transformed -- is open and public
recongition of the scale of the crisis, the depth of the impasse, into which
world capitalism's dependence on cheap fossil fuel, has led it.

The Royal Commission argues that if nothing is done and the world continues
to burn oil on a business-as-usual basis, while continuing to destroy the
great carbon sinks such as the tropical rainforests, then by 2050 THREE
BILLION PEOPLE will face water shortages and imperilled lives.

Mark Jones]


BRITAIN may need 46 nuclear power stations if it is to help save the world
from global warming, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution said
The academics, scientists, lawyers and economists concluded that a 60 per
cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions was needed by 2050 if the worst effects
of climate change were to be avoided. Sir Tom Blundell, the chairman of the
commission, said: "To knowingly cause large-scale disruptions to the climate
would be reckless. We stand on the threshold of doing that."

Richard Macrory, Professor of Environmental Law at University College
London, said that Britain was on course to cut global warming emissions by
12.5 per cent by 2010. However, he said, the achievements had been largely
fortuitous and mainly the result of the switch from coal to cleaner,
gas-fired, generation. Energy use was still rising and unless tough
decisions were made within five years, emissions of gases causing global
warming would again climb.

Dr Susan Owen, lecturer in geography at Cambridge University, set out how
the 60 per cent cut could be achieved. A big shift towards more
energy-efficient transport, homes, offices and factories was one way

The alternative, in which the Government allowed energy consumption to rise,
may require a vast expansion of nuclear power, which would be politically
controversial. Under current policy, all Britain's nuclear power stations
would have been retired by 2050.

Dr Owen suggested that a 20-fold increase in current levels of nuclear
power, or the equivalent of 46 power stations the size of Sizewell B, might
be needed.

In addition "possibly thousands" of small combined heat and power units
sited in buildings and on the edges of towns and linked to district heating
schemes would be required. These would be fed by fast-growing crops along
with agricultural and forestry wastes that were "carbon neutral".

There would be 200 offshore wind farms, each with 100 turbines, and an
estimated 7,500 small wave power devices. Onshore wind farms, generating 65
times as much electricity as today, would also be needed. Most houses and
buildings would have solar cells. A barrage with tidal turbines would be
needed across the Severn.

The commission, whose report has been sent to ministers and the Queen, has
drafted 87 recommendations for reforming the way Britain uses energy. It
says that the Government should turn its aspiration of cutting carbon
dioxide emissions by 20 per cent in ten years into a firm target. The
Government's draft proposals on climate change were likely to fall short of
this, the commission said.

It argues that the Government should back a system allowing industrialising
countries to cause a higher level of pollution while industrial nations had
to reduce energy use. In 2050 developing and developed nations' global
warming emissions would converge.

The commission calls for a carbon tax on the oil and coal industries;
receipts would go to a vastly expanded home energy efficiency scheme.

The Times

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